Ironman world championships

What: 2.4-mile ocean swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run

When: 9:25 a.m. PDT Saturday

Online: www.ironman.com

from Bend

Pro Men: Jesse Thomas

Pro Women: Heather Jackson, Linsey Corbin

Amateur Men: Curtiss Feltner, 25-29; Jason Jacobs, Brett Crandall, Brian Schaning, 30-34; Richard Albrow, 45-49; Jim Rantala, 60-64.

With its variety of roads, trails, lakes and pools, Central Oregon is an ideal training ground for triathletes, the perfect place to hone their multisport craft.

What’s more, the über supportive endurance community in the area helps propel local professional triathletes to the upper echelons of the sport.

Bend’s Jesse Thomas, Heather Jackson and Linsey Corbin will race in the Ironman world championships Saturday in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

All three pro triathletes are aiming for perhaps a top-10 finish in the grueling race that includes a 2.4-mile ocean swim, a 112-mile road bike ride and a 26.2-mile run. Thomas might have an outside chance of winning the pro men’s race, and Jackson might be a dark horse to win the pro women’s division.

They insist they would not be in this position if not for the support they receive at home in Central Oregon.

“I think it’s amazing,” Thomas says of Bend having three top pros competing at Kona.

“It’s a reflection of what Bend offers as a community and as an environment, and the people who are supportive of endurance athletics … retailers, groups that are really endurance-focused and endurance-supportive. It makes sense that there would be lots of good athletes that would come from Bend, and I think it’s really cool. It’s part of Bend’s brand as a town.”

Thomas, 36, will be racing in his first Ironman world championship Saturday, but he has competed in two Ironman events and won them both: Ironman Lanzarote on the Canary Islands this past May, and Ironman Wales in September 2015.

Jackson, meanwhile, finished an impressive fifth at her first Ironman world championship last year.

“I think more so than just the fact that there’s a number of top-level triathletes, what I like about Bend is the type of people that you find there,” says Jackson, 32. “Both Corbs (Corbin) and Jesse, while being amazing athletes, are just so down-to-earth and so friendly. They are some of the biggest fan favorites because they are so nice and so accommodating to people that support them. It’s cool that we have that little group that all come from the same town.”

Thomas, Jackson and Corbin swim together three times a week at Juniper Swim & Fitness Center in Bend, along with several other Central Oregon triathletes who will be competing in age-group classes in Saturday’s race.

“That’s the unique thing about our sport, we spend a lot of time together swimming, biking, running, because we all enjoy it,” Corbin says. “But on race day we’re super competitive. It’s cool we can be friends outside of racing as well.”

A former state-champion distance runner at Bend’s Mountain View High School who went on to run at Stanford, Thomas made quite a splash on the triathlon scene when he defeated Germany’s Jan Frodeno at Lanzarote. Frodeno is the reigning Ironman world champion and world-record holder.

“That’s kind of the funny part, that people are like, ‘You’re gonna win Kona,’” Thomas says. “I’m like, let’s not jump to any conclusions from that one result. A top 10 would be fantastic for me, and most triathlon pundits who know what they’re talking about, they would agree with that as well.”

Thomas explains that the two Ironman events he won played more to his strengths than the Kona race. Both races included hilly, difficult bike and run stages. Because swimming is a weakness for Thomas and biking and running are his strengths, the additional 30 to 45 minutes of riding and running gave him more time to catch the other competitors after the swim.

The larger field size and potentially hot conditions might also hamper Thomas on Saturday.

“There are a number of things that will be working against me, but yeah, I have high hopes just to have a solid day for myself,” he says. “If I was forced to put a number on it, I would say like a top 15 or a top 20 could be a great day, depending on how it shakes out. Certainly a top 10 would be phenomenal — I’d be stoked with that.”

Thomas hopes he is ready to handle the unexpected, and to stay mentally strong throughout the more than eight hours of swimming, biking and running.

“We’re running in the heat of the day,” Thomas says. “It’s going to be a massive mental exercise of … basically staying calm while you’re going slower than you ever expected you would be because the conditions are so hard … not losing confidence and just rolling with it.

“I think I’m as prepared as I could be for somebody who’s never done it before, but there’s obviously a massive learning curve. I’m very aware that there’s going to be a lot of things that happen in ways that I didn’t anticipate.”

Thomas, Jackson and Corbin have been in Hawaii since the middle of last week to adapt to the heat and the conditions.

Jackson grew up in New Hampshire, where ice hockey was her main sport. Her parents got her into triathlon in her early 20s, and she competed in the Ironman world championship as an age-group entry in 2008. In 2012 she moved from San Diego to Bend, and she assimilated quickly into the endurance sports crowd in Central Oregon.

Last year at Kona, she came out of the ocean nearly in last place and biked and ran her way to fifth.

“My ultimate goal is to win it one day,” Jackson says of the world championship. “I don’t know if it’ll be this year. Obviously to improve on fifth (place) would be amazing. I’m going with top 10 as the goal. This race is so crazy, because it’s the best in the world so anything could happen out there. The top contenders could get a flat or mess up their nutrition, so you never know.”

The favorites in the women’s race include 2015 champion Daniela Ryf of Switzerland and 2014 winner Mirinda Carfrae of Australia.

Jackson says the mental aspect of the Ironman race is the most crucial — everybody has trained and prepared physically, but who can stay calm and focused as they endure one of the most demanding races in the world?

“This race, you can get so down on yourself so easily, and it’s just finding that ability to … whatever works for you to get out of that rut and keep moving,” Jackson says. “I’ll think of my family, or my grandpa at home watching when they show it (tape delayed) in December. I find other things that get me to keep going, and it gets me out of that rut and back focused again.”

Corbin, 35 and a Mountain View graduate like Thomas, will race in her 10th Ironman world championship Saturday. She finished as high as fifth in 2008, boasts three top-10 placings, and has finished in the top 15 in all nine of her races at Kona.

“My goal for the race is just to get the most out of myself,” Corbin says. “A top 10 would be great, a top five would be awesome. But it’s a different beast than the other (Ironman) races. The others you can kind of predict how it will go. There’s a lot of unknowns (at the world championship). The weather is really unpredictable.”

The pressure of competing against the best in the world in the heat and high winds at Kona can take its toll — but with unwavering support from their home base, and from each other, the triathletes from Bend seem well-prepared for the challenge.

— Reporter: 541-383-0318,

mmorical@bendbulletin.com

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